Special Reports

Historical Perspective: Kings County Courthouse

The historic Kings County Courthouse, the 114-year-old crown jewel of Hanford's Courthouse Square, is a success story, an escapee from the wrecking ball.

It was designed by renowned architect William H. Wilcox of Los Angeles, who won the job in a competition. He designed it in the Neoclassical Revival style, with an eclectic mix of stylistic elements.

Among them: yellow terra-cotta brick walls, pressed metal cornices, four impressive metal roof spires and north and south porticos. Wilcox originally planned a central dome, but supervisors felt the money would be better spent on a sub-basement.

Completed in 1896 for $26,364, the building underwent a major expansion in 1914, compatible with the original design, that nearly doubled its capacity. It was the seat of county government until 1977, when a new Kings County Government Center was built a mile west on Lacey Boulevard.

By then, the stately old building was in trouble. It had been poorly maintained, and a study found it would cost less to demolish it than save it. Angry residents, favoring preservation, faced City Council members in packed meetings.

A solution was proposed: Apply for a historic designation, which would lead to less restrictive building codes and cut renovation costs. Applause erupted when the council voted unanimously to protect the courthouse, along with the Bastille-- the old jail-- and the Veterans Building.

Developer Max Walden, who had restored the famed Cooper House in Santa Cruz, signed a lease agreement to rehabilitate the courthouse. Today, it houses several businesses, including a sports bar in a former courtroom. The outside features a working carousel and rose gardens.

Related stories from Fresno Bee